Better Safe than Sorry

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In the past weeks, the deadly Ebola virus, which was practically unknown and unheard of by the average Liberian, has rapidly become a national issue of dread, discussion and debate.

Everywhere you turn, from supermarkets to commercial banks, customer-care service providers who literally interact with nearly a hundred people each day, are encouraging their staff to take necessary precautions toward prevention and self-protection. With stories ranging from initial rumors to confirmed reports of cases and lives lost by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, one thing is evident: the Ebola virus is one nightmare our recovering nation is not ready to grapple with.

With enough hearsay circulating on the issue and enough fingers being pointed here and there, the aim of this article is not to contribute to the ongoing elusive blame-game but rather to take a retrospective and prospective look from an environmental health standpoint and identify a few pertinent lessons that can be learnt from the current situation as it unfolds.

LESSON 1: INCREASED NATIONAL FOCUS ON PUBLIC HEALTH & PREVENTIVE MEDICINE

To us as a NATION, the emerging threat of the Ebola virus within domestic boundaries is a resounding reminder of the age-old adage that “prevention is better than cure” and to be safe as a people, is always better than to be sorry. It is a magnifier the multiple underlying challenges being faced by of our emerging health sector.

More forward looking, the fact that Ebola walked out of our public health text books and into our daily lives is a call for a more balanced and increasingly holistic approach to the health care delivery in Liberia. It is an appeal for the tilt of the scale slightly more in favor of preventive medicine as opposed to the current focus on curative. Don’t get me wrong, while curative medicine tends to be capital intensive indeveloping nations such as ours, research has proven time and again that increased focus on public health and preventive medicine always lessens the national burden of disease and enhances the effectiveness of the broader health care delivery system in the long run.

LESSON 2: PUBLIC HEALTH AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE CONTROL AS AN INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

To us as INDIVIDUALS, the greatest lesson we learn from the emerging Ebola threat is that of RESPONSIBILITY. Responsibility not just for our lives and health but that of those we love. With the possibility of contracting and sharing the disease with our loved ones through the basic exchanges of everyday life such as an amicable handshake, a warm hug, by sharing spoons during meals—or anything and everything involving some exchange of body fluids—comes the increased consciousness that in the fragile national public health puzzle, we too play major roles by the things we do or fail to. It’s time we begin taking responsibility for our lives, health and future and that of those we love. Remember to wash your hands. Take personal precaution. Practice good personal hygiene, knowing that what you do or fail to have far-reaching effects on your personal health and well-being and that of those dear to you.

Lastly, as the nation approaches yet another National Fast and Prayer Day on Friday, April 11, 2014, now would also be a good time to pray for our nation Liberia and the safety of its people. God bless us all.
Magdalene Matthews holds a MSc Environmental Health from the Harvard School of Public Health Cyprus International Institute and is a Member, Society for Risk Analysis

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